Ceramic Mural on the banks of Lake
Benalla (including Tatong)
Important and interesting rural centre
Benalla is an attractive centre of some 8700
people situated on the Broken River 188 km
north-east of Melbourne via the Hume Freeway and
40 km south-west of Wangaratta on the Broken
River. Known as the 'Rose City' it is noted for
its public gardens.
Prior to European settlement the area was
occupied by the Yota-yota Aborigines. Hamilton
Hume and William Hovell discovered good pasture
land to the south-east of the present townsite
in 1824. They named the river 'Swampy'.
12 years later the townsite was visited by
Thomas Mitchell and party during their
'Australia Felix' expedition of 1836 which
effectively delineated the first
Sydney-Melbourne Road. They camped on the
eastern riverbank where the Costume and Pioneer
Museum is now located. James Taylor was drowned
while scouting out a suitable crossing place.
In 1838 Grantville Stapylton renamed the
river 'Broken'. In April of that year a party of
some 18 men, in the employ of George and William
Faithfull, were searching out new land to the
south of Wangaratta. Then, in the vicinity of,
or possibly on, the present townsite of Benalla,
a large number of Aborigines attacked the
party's camp. At least one Koori and somewhere
between eight and thirteen Europeans died in
what became known as the Faithfull Massacre.
Local reprisals lasted a number of years,
resulting in the deaths of up to 100 Aborigines.
The reason for the attack is unclear although
some sources claim that the men took shots at
local Aborigines and generally provoked them. It
also seems they were camping on a hunting
ground. Interestingly, the Reverend Docker then
came to live in the area and lived in harmony
with the local Aborigines.
The following year a border police post was
established where the town museum now stands.
This site became known as the Broken River
Crossing Place and a potential townsite was
surveyed around the police post later that year.
Pastoralists began setting up sheep and
cattle stations along the Broken River: one
being the 'Benalta' run of William McKellar.
This was understood to be the name of the local
tribe who also used the word to refer to the
general area. Its meaning is unclear.
In 1840 'Goomalibee' station was taken up on
land adjoining the crossing place. That same
year a squatter named Charles Ryan built the
Black Swan Inn (a slab building) near what is
now the intersection of Arundel St and Kent St.
A post office opened there in 1844. 1847 saw the
construction of a slab courthouse, a cottage for
the commissioner of crown lands and the first
bridge. A new town survey was conducted the
following year and the settlement named
'Benalla' by superintendent Charles La Trobe.
A small town developed along what is now
Arundel St with lots going on sale in Melbourne
in 1849. By 1850 some residences, a
blacksmith's, a general store and a boarding
house had been built on the other side of the
river with the Benalla Hotel under construction
at the corner of Bridge and Nunn Sts. A new
two-storey Black Swan Inn was also being built.
Benalla National School opened in Arundel St in
In 1854 the 13 members of the Benalla tribe
were noted as living in the townsite. That year
the first Methodist service was conducted and
small farming lots went on sale on surrounding
land. A resident Anglican clergyman was
appointed in 1855 and a telegraph station
emerged in 1857. In 1858 a Catholic school and
chapel, a brewery, a flour mill and a new wooden
courthouse were added.
Goldmining commenced to the south-east of
town in 1860 but the field produced little. The
Anglican Church was built that year and a
Presbyterian church in 1861 when Benalla was
proclaimed a town. In 1864 a brick courthouse
was constructed and a Primitive Methodist Church
opened. The first bank branch appeared in 1866
and the Benalla Road was formed in 1868 - the
year the first local newspaper went into
In 1869, a 14-year-old Ned Kelly, Australia's
most famous bushranger, was charged in the local
courthouse for assaulting and robbing Ah Fook
but was found not guilty for lack of supportive
In 1870 Supreme Court sessions commenced at
Benalla and a mechanics institute opened (the
building is now a museum). The railway arrived
in 1873 and a recreation reserve (now the
Botanic Garden) was gazetted that same year. Ned
Kelly reappeared at Benalla courthouse in 1877,
charged with being drunk and disorderly and
riding a horse on the footpath. After a fracas
on the way to the courthouse additional charges
emerged - assaulting a policeman in the course
of his duty, resisting the police and damaging a
constable's uniform. He emphatically claimed the
police had doped his liquor and was fined two
pounds and ordered to pay court costs and
damages. The Commercial Hotel became the
headquarters for the 'Kelly hunt' in 1878 and,
in 1880, Ned was held at Benalla police station
en route to his hearing at Beechworth after the
siege at Glenrowan.
In 1881 the town's fortunes began to improve
after a period of stagnation. The rail link to
Sydney was completed in 1883 and Benalla became
an important railway town when railway workshops
and large refreshment rooms were built in 1888.
The arrival of diesel locomotives in 1952 would
signal the decline of Benalla's usefulness to
the railway system.
New Zealand's first Labour prime minister,
Michael J. Savage, was born at Tatong near
Benalla in 1872. One of eight children, his
father died when he was five and his mother
struggled thereafter. He left school and worked
as a shop assistant in Benalla at the age of 13.
Savage lost his job in the 1890s depression and
wandered about NSW as a farm hand. He went to
New Zealand in 1907 and became involved with the
union movement and Socialist Party. In the midst
of the Great Depression he became the leader of
the Labour Party and the prime minister in 1935.
Savage's government introduced a social security
system in 1938. He died of cancer in 1940 while
still prime minister.
Weary Dunlop in Benalla Rose Gardens
Soldier surgeon and war hero Edward 'Weary'
Dunlop was also born at Benalla in 1907 and
later attended Benalla High School. From March
1942 to the end of the Second World War he was a
POW under Japanese command in Singapore and,
from January 1943, in Thailand where he worked
on the infamous Burma-Thailand railway.
Unintimidated by the Japanese he became a legend
with the Australian prisoners for his modesty
and his remarkable efforts in scrounging food
for the sick, building makeshift hospitals and
operating with hand-made instruments. It is
known that, of the 5600 patients he had handled
by October 1943, only 56 had died under
conditions of extreme deprivation and brutality.
Yet he managed to bare no hatred towards the
Japanese and became deeply devoted to the
peoples of Asia. After the war he acted as a
medical adviser in India, Thailand, Sri Lanka
and South Vietnam. Named Australian of the Year
in 1977 and a Knight of St John in 1982 he
published his best-selling war diaries in 1986.
Dunlop died in 1993.
The Benalla Rose Festival is held in
November, the Australia Felix Benalla Easter
Arts Festival at Easter and the Agricultural
Show (which commenced in 1878) in October. The
Lakeside Craft Market is held on the fourth
Saturday of each month
Things to see:
Costume and Pioneer Museum and Tourist
The Costume and Pioneer Museum at 14 Mair St
doubles as the town's information centre. There
are period costumes and two permanent
exhibitions. 'The Ned Kelly Story' is housed in
a portable cell in which Ned was once
imprisoned. It contains memorabilia such as
Ned's sash and bridle, his cummerbund, the
witness box from the old Benalla courthouse and
the door of the old Benalla gaol to which Joe
Byrne's body was tied for photographs after the
Glenrowan siege in 1880. Kelly received the
sash as a child at Avenel when he rescued a boy
from drowning and was wearing it when taken at
The display known as 'Benalla's Famous Sons'
features memorabilia relating to Sir Edward
'Weary' Dunlop, Michael J. Savage and Captain
Hector Waller. Also on the premises are an
arts-and-crafts gallery and tea rooms.
The museum can furnish pamphlets outlining a
heritage walk, the various trails about Lake
Benalla and bushwalking opportunities in the
area, including the trails of Mt Samaria State
Park, the Strathbogie Ranges and Warby Ranges
State Park, tel: (03) 5762 1749.
The museum is housed within the former
mechanics' institute and free library. These
Victorian institutions were designed to help
educate the ordinary working man (a 'mechanic').
It is a single-storey brick building with gabled
roofs and rendered facades which was built in
1869-70 with an 1882 extension. Benalla's first
building - an early policeman's hut - was built
on this very site in 1839.
Ceramic Mural Garden
Nearby, on the foreshore of the lake, is a
ceramic and terracotta mural featuring a frieze
wall, an upper terrace with views across the
lake, an amphitheatre, a colonnade, turquoise
glazed ceramic domes, a thongaphone (sculpted
tuned pipes meant to be played by striking them
with a thong), wall coping, a circular seat and
This very attractive artificial lake was
constructed in 1974-75 by damming the Broken
River. It features recreation facilities and a
Historic Buildings - East Side
Walk along to Bridge St and turn left. To the
immediate right is the Commercial Hotel, built
in 1860 on the route to the Ovens goldfields.
The verandah and rear rooms are later additions.
It was used as an unofficial headquarters for
the police during their hunt for the Kelly gang
from 1878 to 1880.
Turn left into Nunn St. To the right, at 75
Nunn St, is the National Bank - a two-storey
Italianate building with stuccoed facade and
single-storey wings. Over the road is another
two-storey Italianate building which was built
in 1882-83 as the town hall.
Along the road, at 41 Nunn St (by the Church
St intersection), is a brick flour mill
constructed in 1883-84 to replace an earlier
Continue along Nunn St then turn left at the
next intersection into Benalla St. The last
building to the right is Moira House which is
probably the town's most distinctive
19th-century building. It is a large two-storey
Classical brick house built in 1878 with a
five-bay rendered facade and it now serves as
the Benalla Mens' Club and Bowls Club.
Turn left into Mitchell St. At the corner of
Mitchell and Church Sts is St Andrew's
Presbyterian Church, a neo-Gothic red-brick
structure built in 1905.
Bridge and Toll Gate
Turn left into Church St, take the first right
into Mair St, back past the museum, and turn
right into Bridge St. The bridge dates from
1909-10. The toll gate at its south-western end
was built in 1874 for an earlier bridge which
stood nearby. All Victorian tolls were abolished
Benalla Botanical Gardens and Rose Gardens
On the far side of the bridge are the Benalla
Botanical Gardens, created in 1887 out of what
was then a cricket field which had been carved
out on the banks of the Broken River. The statue
of Benalla's favourite son, Edward 'Weary'
Dunlop, was unveiled in 1996. The band rotunda
dates from 1911 and the soldier's memorial from
The Rose Gardens, which have become something
of a symbol of Benalla, were established in
1959. There is a sizeable collection of modern
hybrid tea and floribunda roses from the 1950s
to the present.
There are walking/cycling paths from the
Bridge St bridge to the Ackerly Ave road bridge
adjacent the railway viaduct (1873). At the
northern end of the lake is a plaque which
records the death of James Taylor, Major
Mitchell's groom, who died in 1836 while
scouting out a crossing place for the
The 'Jim Wood' trail starts near the old toll
gates. It takes in local bushland and birdlife
and leads past footbridges which provide access
to Jaycee Island, Link Island and Little Casey
Island which are situated within the river on
the southern side of Bridge St. There is also a
car parking area near the northern footbridge
across to Jaycee Island.
A brochure at the information centre outlines
a self-guided walk which takes you through some
of the highlights of the Botanical Gardens.
Benalla Regional Art Gallery
In the Botanic Gardens, right on the foreshore
of Lake Benalla, is the Benalla Regional Art
Gallery. It is open from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.
weekdays and from midday to 5.00 p.m. on
weekends. There is an entry fee, tel: (03) 5762
Historic Buildings - West Side
Walk along to the intersection of Bridge St and
Arundel St. The Royal Hotel, built in 1861 on
the western side of the river crossing, is a
two-storey structure with a substantial verandah.
On the north-western corner is the former Star
Turn left into Arundel St. To the immediate
left, at no. 69, is the former courthouse (the
town's third) which dates from 1864 although the
elaborate two-storey facade, with its unusual
pyramid towers, dates from 1888. Ned Kelly was
tried here on two occasions for minor offences.
Adjacent is the former Lands Office, built in
1861 owing to the extent of local land sales. It
is now a parish office of Holy Trinity Anglican
church. The nave of the latter was built in 1860
with the chancel and sanctuary added in 1884,
the vestry and organ chamber in 1905 and the
red-brick belfry and porch in 1907.
Over the road, at 64a Arundel St, is a small
timber shop built prior to 1877 when Ned Kelly
burst into the shop having escaped police
custody while en route from the police station
to the courthouse. He was recaptured in the shop
after a violent struggle with Sergeant Whelan
and Constables Lonigan, O'Dea and Fitzpatrick
which ensued after Constable Lonigan tried to
handcuff Kelly. Fitzpatrick and Lonigan would
prove key figures in Kelly's future. It was the
events surrounding Fitzpatrick's visit to the
Kelly home which precipitated the formation of
the Kelly 'gang' (see entry on Glenrowan) and
Kelly murdered Lonigan at Stringybark Creek in
1878 (see subsequent entry), causing the 'gang',
to be outlawed. There is an explanatory plaque.
Return along Arundel St and cross over Bridge
St. On the left-hand side is a former state
school building, erected in 1874 as an addition
to the original 1851 building. It is now an
administrative office of the Education
Slightly further along, at the Wedge St
corner, is St Joseph's Catholic Church
(1907-08). Over Wedge St is the neo-Gothic FCJ
Further north along Arundel St (250 metres north
of the railway line to the left) is an Ombu Tree
which is classified by the National Trust owing
to its rarity, size and quality. It is one of
only six in Victoria.
Golden Vale Nursery
The Golden Vale Nursery claims to have the
world's largest collection of Australian roses.
It is open daily on Golden Vale Rd, tel: (03)
The Gliding Club of Victoria is based at the
aerodrome on the town's northern outskirts, tel:
(03) 5762 1058.
There are motor sports every weekend at Winton
Motor Raceway 10 km north-east of town. Annual
events include the Australian Historic
Motorferst, the Australian V8 Touring Car
Championship, the Super Touring Championship and
the Super Truck Racing Championship, tel: (03)
Lake Mokoan is a large expanse of water to the
north-west of town (on the northern side of the
Hume Highway) which is ideal for boating,
fishing and waterskiing. To get there, head east
along Sydney Rd (a extension of Bridge St) for 6
km then turn left onto the Yarrawonga Rd,
heading north for 8 km, then turn right onto the
road which follows the northern shore. It is 5
km to a boat ramp. There are also roads along
the southern shore. There are plenty of
Kelly gang member, Joe Byrne, is buried in the
local cemetery, as is Dr Arthur Barrington, a
pioneer of Esperanto who died in 1919. It is
just west of town on Baddaginnie Rd.
Reef Hills State Park
Reef Hills State Park, 4 km south-west of
Benalla on the western side of the Midland
Highway, is a 2040-hectare forest with a range
of flora and fauna amidst eucalypt forest. Gold
was discovered here in 1860 and worked into the
early 20th century though returns were not
substantial. There are open picnic areas.
Tatong and Stringybark Creek
25 km south-east of Benalla is Tatong where you
will find the Tatong Tavern, an English-style
country pub built in the 1880s.
Continue south from Tatong along the Tolmie
Rd up into the forests of the Toombullup
plateau. Turn right into Stringybark Creek Rd
and you will see, after 800 metres, a signpost
pointing left to the 'Kelly Tree' which is 50
metres hence. The inscription in the tree says
'1878 Kelly shot Lonigan'.
It refers to the fact that Sergeant Kennedy
and Constables Lonigan, McIntyre and Scanlon
camped here on October 25, 1878, while searching
for Ned and Dan Kelly. They were spotted by the
gang and the next day, when Kennedy and Scanlon
went out on patrol, Lonigan and McIntyre were
taken by surprise. Lonigan drew and was shot
dead by Ned while McIntyre surrendered.
When Kennedy and Scanlon returned they did
not surrender as requested and, in the ensuing
shoot-out, Ned killed Scanlon and mortally
wounded Kennedy. Ned later shot Kennedy through
the heart, claiming it as an act of mercy.
McIntyre escaped to report the killings as a
result of which the gang were outlawed, meaning
they could be shot on sight.
The original tree, which marked the site of
Lonigan's death is, in fact, long gone but the
killings of Lonigan and Scanlon did occur in the
immediate vicinity. Kennedy's body was found on
the other side of the creek, 400 m away.
There are day facilities and a camping area.
Mt Samaria State Park
Mt Samaria State Park (7600 ha) is an attractive
and forested semi-remote area which encloses a
rugged plateau to the south of Benalla. It was
long used by Aborigines prior to the grazing and
logging practices of the European settlers.
Wildlife is abundant, as are wildflowers in
spring. There are waterfalls, magnificent stands
of trees, scenic views and abundant birdlife.
Visitors can enjoy scenic walks and drives,
picnics, camping, bushwalking and photography.
Access can be gained by heading south along
the Midland Highway for 22 km and taking the
signposted left at Swanpool (by the cemetery).
It is another 14 km to the park entrance and
Samaria Wells picnic ground where you can
usually obtain park brochures. For details ring
the Department of Natural Resources on (03) 5761
1611 or Parks Victoria on 131 963.
The roads in the park can be quite rough,
particularly in winter so take care in a 2WD.
You may wish to enquire about road conditions
before you start.
7 km from Samaria Wells is the start of a
walking track (3 km return) to the summit of Mt
Samaria (953 m). Another 3.5 km along the main
road is the start of a 3-km return walk to the
Wild Dog Creek Falls through stands of messmate
stringybarks and gums. 5.5 km further along the
main road (past some old sawmill ruins and a
picnic area) is the start of the walk to Back
Creek Falls (3 km return). Another 2 km along
the main road is Rocky Point Lookout which
offers fine views across the Alps. If you can
continue along the road there is a right turn
which indicates the way back to the Midland